Councillors in Chester have backed the authority's plans to procure a new development and design team as it aims to deliver the long-overdue Northgate retail scheme in the city centre.
As with the Barons Quay town centre development in Northwich, Cheshire West & Chester Council does not intend to appoint a developer to complete the scheme. The council leaders believe they will have more control and generate greater returns by acting as developer themselves.
The agreement with the last preferred developer for Northgate, ING Real Estate, ended in February 2012.
This week at a special meeting of the council, members unanimously backed the procurement of a development and design team and the finance to get concept plans to the planning application stage by spring 2015. All being well, the development could open in 2019. The figure of the financial budget to get to planning application stage was withheld from publication.
Members considered a report from CACI, a specialist consumer and retail researcher, warning that cash spend per head of the population in the city had dropped to 59th in 2012 from 27th in 2006 out of 4,000 retail centres.
CACI added that in the local market with a catchment of 2m people, Chester had a market share of 7.3% out of a £4.1bn expenditure, behind Liverpool with 11.5% and Cheshire Oaks, 8%.
Cllr Les Ford, member for resources, said: "The evidence is clear – 'develop or decline'. We have no alternative."
The council's Northgate proposal includes:
- New theatre and library
- Replacement market
- Eight-screen cinema
- 375,240 sq ft of retail floor space including anchor department store
- 51 standard unit stores; two kiosks and five major store units
- small food store of 6,555 sq ft
- 79,233 sq ft of food and beverage units
- 954 parking spaces underground and in a multi-storey car park
- New bus facility at Gorse Stacks
ING Real Estate was selected as preferred developer in 2000 by Chester City Council. After ING's exit, the revised plan was drawn up internally without a developer, instead using a team of advisers: commercial agents DTZ; architects ACME; cost consultants Davis Langdon; WSP on transport, archaeology and structures.
Chester councillor Samantha Dixon, a member of the all-party Northgate Working Group, said: "Chester is the retail engine that needs to carry the rest of the Borough. It should be performing strongly, bringing jobs and money into the borough and contributing to increase revenue.
"If this decline continues, then the consequences affect the whole of the borough. We need to invest in Chester to help keep the borough going.
"I believe we should be using public sector funding to enable development on this scale. We should do this because it will create jobs, thousands of them for the teenagers currently sitting in our local schools. It will bring revenue to the council in business rates and vitality back for our local retailer."